Officials Say 103 Killed, 235 Wounded in Afghan Car Bombing - NBC New York
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Officials Say 103 Killed, 235 Wounded in Afghan Car Bombing

Kabul has been the site of numerous bombing attacks claimed by the Taliban and the Islamic State group affiliate over the last year

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Officials Say 103 Killed, 235 Wounded in Afghan Car Bombing
    Rahmat Gul/AP
    An injured man arrives outside a hospital following a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018.

    Afghan authorities have raised the dead toll from Saturday's suicide bombing in Kabul to 103.

    The attacker drove an ambulance filled with explosives and was able to race through a security checkpoint by saying he was transferring a patient to a hospital. The explosion damaged or destroyed dozens of shops and vehicles.

    Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak provided the updated death toll on Sunday, saying another 235 people were wounded in the attack. He said police were among those killed and wounded.

    Ahmad Fahim, a shopkeeper who survived Saturday's attack, said several fellow merchants were wounded or killed. He said he had seen many victims who lost arms or legs in the blast.

    The Taliban claimed the attack, which dealt a major blow to the U.S.-backed Afghan government. Afghan security forces have struggled to combat the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014.

    The government declared a day of mourning, with shops closed and flags at half-staff.

    The powerful explosion could be felt across the city and left the surrounding area blanketed in dust and smoke. It came a week after Taliban militants stormed a luxury hotel in Kabul, killing 22 people, including 14 foreigners, and setting off a 13-hour battle with security forces.

    Masoom Stanekzai, the head of Afghanistan's intelligence service, said five suspects have been arrested for their involvement in the attack on the Intercontinental Hotel and that another had fled the country. He said four people have been arrested in connection with Saturday's attack.

    President Donald Trump said in a tweet Saturday that the "murderous attack" renews the U.S. resolve with its Afghan partners, adding, "The Taliban's cruelty will not prevail" and the U.S. is "committed to a secure Afghanistan that is free from terrorists."

    It has been a month of relentless attacks across Afghanistan, with the Taliban and an Islamic State group affiliate making alternate claims of responsibility. The brutality and frequency of the attacks, including one in December at a Shiite cultural center, has shattered Afghanistan's usually quiet winter, when fighting normally slows down.

    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres quickly condemned Saturday's attack, saying through a spokesman that "Indiscriminate attacks against civilians ... can never be justified." U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John R. Bass called the attack "senseless and cowardly."

    And the International Committee of the Red Cross seethed that the ambulance attack was "unacceptable and unjustifiable," saying in a tweet: "The use of an ambulance in today's attack in #Kabul is harrowing."

    U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Taliban's use of an ambulance as a weapon to target civilians "represents inhumane disregard for the people of Afghanistan ... and is a violation of the most basic international norms."

    It was the second Taliban attack in a week on high-security targets in the city.

    Last weekend, six Taliban militants attacked Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel, leaving 22 people, including 14 foreigners, dead. About 150 guests fled the gun battle and fire sparked by the assault by climbing down bedsheets tied to balconies. The U.S. Department of State said American citizens were killed and injured in that attack.

    The hotel attack prompted the United States to repeat its demand that Pakistan expel Taliban members who have found sanctuary on its soil, with particular reference to the Haqqani network. On Wednesday a U.S. drone slammed into Pakistani tribal territory that borders Afghanistan, killing two Haqqani commanders, said Pakistani officials, who deny providing organized camps for their safety. Pakistan says the Taliban cross the porous border that separates the countries along with the estimated 1.5 million Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan.

    The recent attacks have infuriated Afghans, frustrated by the worsening security after 16 years of war. The Afghans have expressed their anger with neighbor Pakistan for harboring insurgents and with the U.S.-led coalition for its inability to suppress the insurgency. They also have blamed the deteriorating security situation on a deeply divided government embroiled in political feuding that has paralyzed Parliament.

    After Saturday's attacks Pakistan issued a statement that condemned the bombing, saying, "No cause or ends justify acts of terrorism against innocent people."

    Afghan security forces, whose competency has been uneven, have struggled to fight the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission in 2014.

    Trump has pursued a plan that involves sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan and envisions shifting away from a time-based approach to one that more explicitly links U.S. assistance to concrete results from the Afghan government. The Republican president's U.N. envoy, Nikki Haley, said after a recent visit to Afghanistan that his policy was working and that peace talks between the government and the Taliban are closer than ever before.